Targets play a crucial role in understanding and improving the performance of your call centre. However, with managers having to balance the interests of their business, their agents and their customers, choosing the right targets can be a real challenge.

To help you choose the right targets for your call centre, we’re looking at some of the common problems that come with target-setting – and identifying four ways you can improve your call centre’s targets.

1) Set Targets on a Queue by Queue Basis

When setting call centre targets, it’s common to work on the assumption that all callers will behave in the same basic way. In practice, the behaviour of callers will vary from queue to queue; and the caller’s reason for contacting your call centre will affect their expectations of service, and their tolerance of waiting times. To avoid wasting money on over-provision of service, and losing revenue from under-provision, targets need to be set on a queue-by-queue basis.

A customer entering a sales queue is likely to expect prompt service, and failing to deliver that service could cost the company a sale. In instances like this (where your queue is profit-focused), it’s vital to set targets that encourage agents to meet the caller’s high expectations.

Cost-focused queues have a different goal. In order to minimise the cost of service, it’s important to recognise that service levels can sometimes be reduced, without a noticeably negative impact on the customer experience. For example, it would be irresponsible for a government call centre to spend taxpayer’s money on answering all calls within 5 seconds – especially when the centre’s callers are unlikely to expect such high service levels.

2) Beware of Contradictory Targets

On paper, the combination of 80% occupancy and a 90/10 service level (SL) target sounds like a recipe for a high-flying call centre. In reality though, a call centre won’t be able to hit both of these targets at the same time.

In order to achieve a 90/10 SL target, it’s necessary to have agents sitting idle, ready to immediately answer the next call that comes in. Unfortunately, having those agents available to meet your SL target will inadvertently reduce your occupancy. The higher your service level target, the more agents are required to be idle – making it next-to impossible to hit both SL and occupancy targets simultaneously.

Some targets share this inverse relationship, with improvements in one area of service negatively impacting another. Unfortunately, members of the C-suite may not be aware of the contradictory nature of certain targets. In this instance, missing performance targets isn’t the fault of the agents or the floor manager – it’s an issue with the targets themselves. In order to avoid this happening, it’s important to identify when contradictory targets have been set.

3) Don’t Blindly Adopt Peer Targets

Comparing your own targets to those from another call centre can be a useful exercise, allowing you to gauge the performance of your peers, and identify areas where your own centre differs. If your own targets are radically different, it’s worth investigating why – whether you’re outperforming all of your peers, or doing something in a less than optimal way.

Crucially though, discussing peer targets should be no replacement for setting your own targets. Even if the majority of your peers operate with similar targets, there’s no guarantee that those targets will be optimal for your own call centre. Whilst blindly adopting popular targets may seem like a time-saving move, if they don’t serve the interests of your business, your staff and your customers, they could end up costing you a lot of money.

4) Beware of Unintended Consequences

For a long time, most call centres set Average Handling Time (AHT) targets. If an agent saw their average handling time start to wander away from the target, it was assumed they’d try to offer more efficient customer service for the rest of the day’s calls. Instead, it was far easier to answer a handful of calls, and then immediately hang-up – registering a handling time of 0 seconds, and lowering their day’s average.

The target’s aim was to improve call handling efficiency, but agents found a way to achieve it without actually improving their call handling. They hit their target, but the call centre’s performance didn’t actually improve. To avoid this happening, you need to do more than simply determine if targets are being hit – and it’s vital to look at how the targets are being hit.

Hitting targets isn’t a goal in itself. Targets are designed to reinforce (or discourage!) certain behaviours, in order to improve performance. As a result, there’s no point pursuing dozens of complex targets – and it’s far better to choose a handful of well-defined, tightly-monitored targets.

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